‘Blackberry Daze’ at MetroStage leaves you dizzy

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‘Blackberry Daze’ at MetroStage leaves you dizzy
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By Jordan Wright (Photo/Chris Banks)

Director, choreographer and lyricist Thomas W. Jones II and musical director William Knowles are the collaborators on a world premiere musical now playing at MetroStage, “Blackberry Daze.”

Adapted from the murder mystery, “Blackberry Days of Summer” by Lynchburg native Ruth P. Watson, “Blackberry Daze” is the story of a mother and her teenage daughter, a jazz club singer and her soldier husband, who has just returned after World War I, a host of churchgoing ladies, and a two-timing hustler. Set in the backwoods of rural Virginia, the action swings back and forth from the sophisticated black nightclubs in D.C. to a hard-knock life in the country.

Ayana Reed plays Carrie Parker, a teenager struggling with a grim secret, and Roz White portrays her mother, Mae Lou. Mae Lou has a heart of gold until she meets and marries Herman Camm, a fast-talking lowlife played by T.C. Carson, and betrays her daughter’s trust.

Reed gives an outstanding and deeply affecting performance, and though her character is by far the most emotionally critical element, it is not given enough importance. For me, Carrie’s plight and ultimate redemption is where the real story lies.

I compare it to the films “Precious” or “The Color Purple” for sheer poignancy. Un- fortunately, Carrie’s story is truncated by an overabundance of gospel tunes interspersed with jazz songs of the era. And though Reed has but a single solo in “Palm of God,” it is the most indelible moment of the show.

Carson succeeds in portraying the slick Camm, a cad and a rapist who has the whole town gunning for him, including his red hot paramour, Pearl (the husky-voiced Yvette Spears). But tying the characters and their motives together becomes confusing when the story be- comes overloaded with several disparate objectives.

There are 14 numbers in all, including the surprisingly chosen “O Holy Night.” It was baffling at times trying to make out whose story was being told, and by whom.

In some cases, the characters tell their own stories, which would work better if there were one narrator. Some streamlining would help clear this up, but where? It would be blasphemous to cut any of Knowles’ songs.

And with a seasoned, standout cast of Carson, White, Duyen Washington as both Ginny and Auntie May, Nia Harris as Hester, and Duane Richards II, who plays both Carrie’s adoring boyfriend Simon and Pearl’s husband Willie, whose lines would you cut?

It’s better just to focus on the razzmatazz of the era, the fine acting, Knowles’ onstage piano playing, and the dance segments.

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